EDITIONS
Art of Scaling Up

This vernacular digital comic book platform took on the twin challenges of growth and reach and emerged victorious

Team YS
posted on 12th December 2018
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Founder Rajeev Tamhankar tells us the story of how they crossed 50,000 subscribers in just 40 days

Comics and superheroes are the stuff that many youngsters’ dreams are made of. For a large section of Indian readers, regional comic books in the languages that they are most comfortable with are far more appealing than the universes of Marvel and DC.

And this is what TBS Planet has set out to do, by creating a quality vernacular platform for comics and animation. Through its portal, it allows users to read content in any of six preferred languages – Hindi, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada, Bangla and English.

“When I started TBS Planet in 2016 with the comic book ‘Ved’, it was more of a hobby. But very soon we got contracts from Balaji Motion Pictures and later Ajay Devgn FFilms to create comics for their Bollywood movies – ‘A Flying Jatt’ and ‘Shivaay’ respectively. That’s when I quit my job at Xiaomi and started this venture full-time,” says Rajeev Tamhankar, Founder of the Jabalpur-based company.

Rajeev says TBS Planet is like the Netflix of the comic book world, in that while they are a platform for comics and animation creators, they also have their own “Exclusives” which are their flagship products. These include their own six superheroes –Karma, Ved, Varun, Yug, Takshak and Rudra.

Rajeev offers, “Our biggest successes so far have been ‘Karma’ and ‘13 Days’. ‘Karma’ is a very interesting superhero and my personal favourite. He punishes criminals just to the extent of the crime. For example, if a villain steals something from someone, Karma will steal something in return from the villain. In short, he stands for the Indian concept of karma or in other words, ‘what goes around, comes around’. ‘13 Days’ is a horror story based on a group of friends from Bangalore who visit a forest and start to experience hauntings after that. This has been our bestseller so far and always goes ‘sold out’ at all Comic Con events and other exhibitions in India.”

Challenges in growth and reach

Earlier they used to create print comics only in English and faced issues in readership and distribution.

According to Rajeev, one of the key challenges was overcoming the language barrier when it came to printing in different Indian languages. “Since we were in the print business primarily, translating into different languages and printing in each language was a big challenge as the minimum order quantity (MOQ) of printing is typically 3,000 units for most good quality printers. But as soon as we went digital, we could overcome this problem,” he says.

Nevertheless, they still had to figure out how to get more sustained traffic to their website.  That’s when they decided to apply to the JioGenNext programme. They got selected and were part of the January to April 2018 cohort.

Overcoming challenges with JioGenNext’s help

JioGenNext advises and mentors exceptional founders for launching their startup in the Jio ecosystem. Since 2014, JioGenNext has been helping build a strong foundation for startups to scale up and grow by giving participants access to eminent investors, business mentors, technical experts, and potential customers. The programme also equips them with the latest tools and know-how, as well as the opportunity to get Jio as a customer.

According to Rajeev they applied to the JioGenNext programme as it offers three things important for startups: (1) Networking with like-minded entrepreneurs both from the current batch as well as previous batches;(2) Mentorship and industry insights that help startups experiment and pivot based on their learning; and (3) Access to technology and funds.

“Reliance has a big array of businesses. As part of JioGenNext we got connected with the JioChat team as that was most closely aligned to our business. We also received mentorship and guidance from Rahul Razdan, CEO of JioChat, on the kind of content that would work well with audience and also deep insights on content frequency and genres. Additionally, the JioChat team helped us a lot in determining target audience, conducting experiments and helping decide on optimised content size and resolution for optimal viewing for consumers. The on-boarding process for content players is very smooth as companies can directly approach the team on JioChat’s official website. Besides, the JioChat team itself actively seeks content players and hand-holds them to set up channels in less than a day,” says Rajeev.

He adds, “Once we incorporated JioChat into our business, we could see the results immediately. We crossed 50,000 subscribers in just 40 days! That is more than 1,000 subscribers in just one day. This would have otherwise cost us Rs 40-50 lakh of investment and taken us at least six months!”

The impact the programme had on their business

He goes on to describe the JioGenNext programme and how it positively impacted the business of TBS Planet. Mentorship sessions that were an essential part of the programme helped a lot of startups understand their market, experiment with their customer base and evolve their business to suit market requirement.

“During JioGenNext we had three major realisations: (i) We should be more vernacular (until then we were heavy on English language content only); (ii) We should go digital; (iii) We should evolve into a platform where others can submit their content too,” he says.

He credits the programme with giving them a better understanding of their product-market fit. “We had a lot of interesting market insights during JioGenNext. For instance, we got to know that over 90 percent of India does not prefer consuming content in English as their primary language. And so we experimented with various geographies and languages.” They overcame this challenge by offering digital content in other Indian languages to appeal to more readers. Today, they offer content in six languages on their platform – Hindi, English, Marathi, Telugu, Kannada and Bangla -- and have seen growing interest from cities in MP, UP and Bihar. They are working on including other Indian language content as well.

They now have a subscriber base of around 10,000 for comics on their platform outside JioChat.

“Everyday, thousands of users come to our channel on JioChat and from there visit our platform. This has helped us penetrate the vernacular crowd, specifically users in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. Today a lot of users come to our portal from cities and towns in Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh,” he says.

According to him, with so many different distribution mediums like social media websites, chat apps and forums, available today it has become easier for a content piece to go viral quickly. Social media platforms like JioChat, WhatsApp and Instagram have made it easier to drive traffic to their website. “Each of these social media tools have their own ways of marketing and the right growth hacking techniques can help scale quickly,” Rajeev adds.

Achieving growth, reach and more

With a total strength of 22 members, including full-time employees and freelancers, the bootstrapped startuphas teams based in Jabalpur and Roorkee. They are currently in the process of starting operations in Bangalore as well.

“We are currently partnering with lot of content creators and in a month’s time will soon be out with our new platform where folks can read comics from hundreds of creators in different languages,” Rajeev elaborates on their third key takeaway from the JioGenNext experience, that of curating content from other artists and creators.

“Recently, hundreds of artworks were shared on our Facebook group by artists in towns like Indore, Allahabad, Patna etc. After seeing the response to these, we are now planning to form a community of artists.Presently, we have partnered with around 100 different artists. Very soon we will launch a community where these artists can share their artwork,both on our portal as well as with other artists.We are also venturing into animation. In short, we intend to soon become one stop for all graphical content, be it art, comics or cartoons,” he signs off.

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